ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays got the final say on Sunday, taking what suddenly became an emotionally charged weekend series against Detroit with a 3-1 win that was the product of a strong Jeremy Hellickson start, a couple of clutch hits and shutdown relief work.
But then the Rays had a few choice words anyway for the Tigers, who, after complaining about what they felt was an inappropriately high-and-tight pitch from Fernando Rodney to superstar Miguel Cabrera the night before, sought revenge Sunday by actually hitting Ben Zobrist in the first inning.
First, there were words for Cabrera, who the Rays said over-reacted and was too "sensitive" about the Saturday night pitch that didn't hit him.
"This guy is outstanding, he's wonderful," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I just wish he wouldn't cry so much."
And words for Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello, who the Rays said should have at least been ejected, or perhaps subject to ensuing discipline, for intentionally hitting Zobrist, who said the pitch was heading toward his face, though he turned and took it on the wrist.
Porcello claimed the pitch "just got away from me," and Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who Sunday morning claimed Saturday's hard feelings were "history," shrugged it off as "part of the game."
Maddon, noting that "history repeated itself about the first inning,'' said it was "absolutely uncalled for," since the Rays hadn't hit anyone and it was somewhat hypocritical of Leyland given his prior complaints.
"Somebody with the control that Porcello has, you expect him to be able to throw the ball down," Zobrist said of the Tigers pitcher who entered the game having hit 1 of 334 batters. "And the fact that the ball was up near my face, I think it's cause for the umpires to do something in that situation."
And then the Rays had a message for the whole Tigers team, in a not-so-subtle pop-culture reference to Godfather-style revenge, even though they won't meet again this season unless it is in the playoffs.
"Just read (author) Mario Puzo, that's all, he'll give you all the answers," Maddon said. "That's how the family thing works. Just read it. There's many more opportunities to play good, hard baseball. And we will."
The drama on the field, before a Trop crowd of 23,437, was pretty good, too.
After Zobrist, one of the most genial players, was hit, he took a long look at Porcello, then told the umpires they should do something more than the warnings they issued given how obviously intentional it was. Zobrist admitted he was "a little bit" angry.
"He was upset," Maddon said. "There was some smoke coming out of his ears."
With the Rays (43-39) leading 1-0 after three innings, Cabrera, who for the second straight day declined to talk to reporters, had his say. He knocked a Hellickson pitch into the touch tank beyond the wall to the right of centerfield, just the second ball to make a splash landing since the pool for cownose rays was installed in 2006.
"The rays were in danger," Maddon said. "He could've gotten a phone call or a letter from some activist group."
And with Cabrera leading off the eighth, Maddon played a bit of a mind game. He sent the intimidating Kyle Farnsworth to the mound despite his 7-for-16 track record against Cabrera, but he had Joel Peralta continue to warm up, at least suggesting the Rays were preparing for Farnsworth to be ejected.
Farnsworth threw three pitches that were just inside, then on 3-and-1 Cabrera lined a shot to third that Kelly Johnson, filling in for injured Evan Longoria, snagged.
Then Maddon brought in Peralta and congratulated Farnsworth for a job done well.
"The way it was all setting up right there, I just thought he was the right guy to bring in at that particular moment," Maddon said with a sly smile.
Added Farnsworth, with a similar expression: "I got him out."
Hellickson pitched a solid six innings to post his team-record-tying fifth victory of the month, though two relievers did a lot to preserve the 3-1 lead. Jake McGee came on after Hellickson loaded the bases to start the seventh and got out of it unscathed. And Rodney, after throwing 32 pitches Saturday over two innings, came back and threw 20 for his 17th save.
By the end of the afternoon, the Rays felt plenty was said, and done.
"We won the game," Farnsworth said. "That's the main thing."